By Dalia Ben-Galim
Upon the offer of a new job, excitement and relief can soon shift into a logistical balancing act for many families. As most parents know, finding childcare which is affordable, good quality, and in the right location with opening hours that suit can be a challenge.
"I had to give up a really good job because of childcare and have since turned down a job offer a couple of times," Liz from Greenwich told Gingerbread, the national charity for single parents. "Balancing childcare and getting the right job is really quite challenging."
And Ife from Southwark has had to scale back her hours because of the high costs and lack of provision during school holidays: "Come the six-week school summer holidays, I'm going to have to give up my job because I will not be able to afford the childcare costs."
For many parents, especially in London where childcare costs are a third higher compared to other parts of the country, it means they are simply locked out of work.
New analysis by Gingerbread shows that the single parent employment rate in the capital has risen from 48% to 63% in the last five years, faster than elsewhere in the UK. But the share of single parents in work drops significantly for those with pre-school aged children. This is in large part due to the childcare mis-match. The research also highlights that about half of single parents are forced to borrow money in order to meet the high cost of childcare in London.
As the mayoral election enters its final month, candidates are focusing on tackling the high cost of living and supporting more Londoners into sustainable work.
So Gingerbread is proposing a childcare deposit guarantee, which would see parents supported into the jobs market. Designed to support those about to start a new job or increase their working hours, the scheme, named Upfront, would help parents arrange care for their children ahead of their first pay cheque, with the Greater London Authority paying the deposits nurseries and childminders typically require.
Many single parents tell us that finding the money for the upfront costs - often a deposit, administration fee and a month's fees in advance - can be hard, especially when you haven't yet been paid.
Thea from Haringey relied on her parents for the upfront costs. "I was on maternity leave the full 52 weeks and received statutory pay for the first 39 weeks," she says. "I then had to send my child to nursery a month early because of the settling-in period and to guarantee a place.
"It was so expensive, £1,100-a-month, in addition to having to pay £200 in advance to the childcare provider to guarantee a place. This meant that I was forced to rely on my parents for the deposit and the first month of childcare until I was paid."
Making childcare affordable is therefore essential for supporting more single parents back into work and ensuring that it pays to work. Not least because employment is still deemed to be the best route out of poverty.
Our analysis shows that supporting single parents into work not only benefits families, but also the exchequer. A five percentage point increase in single parents' employment rate could generate £436m-a-year as a result of increased tax revenue and reduced benefits.
We're calling on mayoral candidates to support Gingerbread's plan and plug a gap that's currently not being addressed by any level of government or agency. As a deposit guarantee, rather than a loan, it responds to shortcomings of previous schemes where parents have been reluctant to take on extra debt.
Upfront doesn't solve all of London's childcare challenges, but it provides the mayor with a way to help London's parents fulfil their potential, better support their families and contribute to the capital's vibrant economy.
Dalia Ben-Galim is the director of policy at Gingerbread
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